Despite a strong performance by Edwin Jackson (ND, 9-10, 3.85), the Washington Nationals bullpen faltered once again in the Nats’ 5-4 loss to the Braves Saturday, as a ninth inning run meant the difference.
Jayson Werth got things started for the Nats with a leadoff single in the first and a stolen base on Bryce Harper’s first of two strikeouts Saturday night. After Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson (ND, 12-8, 4.35) struck out Ryan Zimmerman for the second out, Adam LaRoche ripped his 30th home run of the season to drive in the first two runs for the Nats.
Jackson maintained good movement on his fastball, forcing Michael Bourn, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann to hit into outs in the first.
It was a comedy of errors, however, for the Braves in the second inning. After Danny Espinosa struck out, Jesus Flores walked and Steve Lombardozzi chopped one towards the mound, but Hanson took his time throwing the ball to first and Lombardozzi beat out the throw. Jackson laid down the perfect bunt and sprinted to first, forcing Hanson to rush a sloppy throw to first. As the ball got away from Freddie Freeman, Flores and Lombardozzi scored, doubling the Nats lead to four runs.
Freeman led off the bottom of the inning with a triple and Dan Uggla’s double put the Braves on the board, trailing 4-1.
In a bizarre turn of events, Ian Desmond doubled in the top of the third and advanced on a wild pitch that Danny Espinosa caught in the crux of his arm. The umpires convened in the infield to debate whether or not Espinosa interfered with a potential throw to third and, much to the dismay of Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez, they awarded Desmond third base. However, it was all for not, as Espinosa struck out for the sixth time in the three-game series.
In the bottom of the sixth, Martin Prado was called safe at first on a throwing error by Jackson, frustrating Davey Johnson who argued he was safe until first base umpire Marvin Hudson threw him from the game. The call would come back to haunt the Nats as Heyward belted one over the wall in right center, tying the game at four runs apiece.
The Nats turned to left-hander Tom Gorzelanny to close out the inning before any additional damage was done.
In the eighth, Ryan Mattheus gave up a single to David Ross and back-to-back walks to Uggla and Chipper Jones before hitting Andrelton Simmons with a pitch that drove in the go-ahead run, giving the Braves a 5-4 lead into the ninth.
The Nats’ bench threatened in the ninth as pinch-hitter Chad Tracy singled off Craig Kimbrel with one out and pinch-runner Eury Perez stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher J.C. Boscan. However, Lombardozzi and pinch-hitter Tyler Moore both struck out swinging, allowing the Braves to secure a 5-4 win, reducing the Nats lead in the NL East to 6 ½ games.
THE GOOD: Despite hard-hit line drives by Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla in the second and a Freeman home run in the fourth, the Nats’ Edwin Jackson maintained control throughout the better part of his 5 1/3-inning performance, in which he struck out seven and allowed only three earned runs on four hits.
THE BAD: The Nationals bullpen once again buckled under pressure as Ryan Mattheus (L, 5-1, 2.41) sloppy performance in the eighth cost the Nats the game.
THE UGLY: Bryce Harper went 0-for-4 against Atlanta’s pitching with two strikeouts.
Danny Espinosa struck out in all four of his at-bats on Saturday. Espinosa has struck out in his last eight at-bats vs. Braves pitching.
STATISTICS: 4 runs, 8 hits, 1 BB, 12 K, 11 LOB, 1 error (Jackson, 3)
NEXT GAME: Sunday at 8:05 p.m. against the Braves. Gio Gonzalez (19-7, 2.93 ERA) faces Mike Minor (8-10, 4.42 ERA).